How to Choose the Best Generator for Your Needs

If you’ve been facing power outages from natural disasters such as wildfires or utility company shutdowns such as rolling blackouts, you may be thinking about installing a generator to power your home.

Types of generators

Generators are available in two basic categories; portable and standby that must be installed to the main power system outside of your home.

Portable generators

Obviously, portable generators can be moved from location to location. More affordable than standby options, these generators serve a variety of uses, from job sites without power to fully-fledged “off-grid”  purposes.

Standby generators

Their size, weight, and design make these generators non-portable. Made to stay in one location, they connect to your home to provide power in the event the power grid goes down, if only for a short time. 

Do you really need a generator?

While a generator could keep the lights on – and hopefully the air conditioner blasting – before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars ask yourself if it will really suit your needs.: 

Do I have enough space to run and store it?

Portable generators should be at least 15 feet from any occupied structure to eliminate the possibility of carbon monoxide exposure.

When not used, portable generators should be stored in a shed or garage.

How often do we have blackouts?

If you’re frequently losing power then a generator could be a good investment.

How long does it take for power to get turned back on?

Rural areas can sometimes take days or even weeks to have power restored. In this scenario, having a generator is almost mandatory.

Are there health concerns with a lack of power?

If someone in your home has medical needs that require power, then it may be critical to install a generator.

What appliances and/or devices are critical for your needs?

If you only need to keep your smartphone charged you could get by with a solar generator, but if you want to keep your fully stocked refrigerator powered, you’ll need the right size generator.

What size generator should I get?

First things first.

Your budget will determine how big of a generator you can purchase. Therefore, it will also determine how many of your devices and/or appliances you can provide power to.

When thinking about the type of generator you can buy, keep both affordability and power needs in mind as you could spend more when you don’t really have to.

If you have a budget of $10,000 and up, you can purchase a standby generator that will provide power to everything in your home for days.

However, if you only have a few hundred dollars, prioritize what you need to provide power for the most. This will ensure that you have power for your most important devices.

Portable generators typically start out at around $300 to $400 dollars for a 3,000-watt range unit. 

This could provide power to most refrigerators, a few lights, some small electronics, and even a small window air conditioner.

As you can imagine, the more watts you need, the more you’ll pay; anywhere from $2,000 or more for units with 8 to 12 thousand watts.

Standby generators, however, are much pricier, starting at around $3,000 or so to as much as $20,000 or even more. 


As you can see, your budget will not only dictate which generator you can purchase, but what you can provide power to, simply because you’re paying for wattage.

To help you calculate how much your device(s) will need, there are many wattage calculators that can help, such as:




Installation costs

Finally, if you have the budget for it and decide to go with a standby generator, there are additional costs to consider.

Installation costs can range anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 or more; about double the cost of an average generator.

Other costs that you’ll incur with standby generators:

  • ⬥ Lubrication
  • ⬥ Engine filters
  • ⬥ Cooling
  • ⬥ Fuel and fuel lines
  • ⬥ Starting mechanism
  • ⬥ Transfer switch
  • ⬥ Alternator
  • ⬥ Air and combustion

For larger, portable generators (5,000 watts or more) have an electrician install a transfer switch to your home’s circuit panel. This will allow the generator to safely provide power to the lights and power outlets in your home. The cost to have this done is much less expensive; anywhere from $200 to $800 dollars.

Other costs that you’ll incur with portable generators:

  • ⬥ Extension cords
  • ⬥ Rain tents
  • ⬥ Fuel and oil

In summary, your choice of generator will be driven first by your budget and next by the amount of power you want to have. 

Unless you have a large budget, you will be unable to power everything you now have. Take comfort in the fact that this will only be temporary. 

Besides, your ancestors survived, and you will too!

Try these posts out if a generator is not in your future:

Utility Bills 101: Average Costs & Saving On Your Bills

7 Ways to Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

How to Design a Resource-and-Energy-Efficient Home